Discrimination bill saves the religious lobby from themselves

Some religious leaders are so unhappy with Attorney-General Christian Porter’s new laws tackling religious discrimination they boycotted his unveiling of the draft bill last week. The faith lobby is cut about Australia’s chief lawmaker rejecting their demands for the hotly-awaited bill to express a “positive right” to “religious freedom” so that cake-sellers can stay sweet with the man upstairs by refusing to bake for same-sex weddings, which is an admittedly over-used and arguably facetious example, but at least you get the drift.

Porter’s bill simply protects people from discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs, in the same way we’re protected from discrimination around gender, race, age and disability.

But I detect a fig leaf in the shape of a torah scroll. For while Prime Minister Scott Morrison makes a virtue of his Pentecostalism, and the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage are conservative Christians, and Israel Folau is an outspoken Christian and not an outspoken anything else, the official Coalition line is that religious freedom laws are a necessary and belated recognition of Australian multiculturalism.

Morrison said in December: “If you support a multicultural Australia, you'll be a supporter of religious freedoms. You'll understand that religious faith is synonymous with so many different ethnic cultures in Australia.”

Still, a Jewish house of worship strikes me as an odd place for the bill’s launch. Not quite illustrative of the broader multiculturalism message. After Christians, who account for 52 per cent of Australians, the most common religion is Islam at 2.6 per cent - Judaism is way, way lower at only .04 per cent and falling. So wouldn’t the more appropriate, more representative, venue have been Lakemba Mosque? But that’s still not quite accurate. The biggest and fastest-growing non-Christian group in our increasingly multicultural society, the preferred faith of 30 per cent of people, is “no religion”. Porter said the bill outlaws discrimination on the basis of religious belief “or lack thereof”. So given non-believers are also in this tent why not launch the bill at the headquarters of The Rationalist Society?

In any case, it’s reassuring the government will protect the rights of “lackers thereof". Because, say someone in their private capacity posts a tweet about an already privileged sector strong-arming the secular state for even more privileges to compensate for the diminishing pull of their “superstitious beliefs” - just quoting from The Rationalist Society’s website - and they get sacked a la Folau for damaging their employer’s brand, it’s good to know redress might be possible.

The religious complain of being pushed from the public square. They make a spectacle of their martyrdom. Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli said he’d rather go to prison than break the confessional seal around child sex abuse. But Victoria’s new laws, besides responding to the recommendations of the child sex abuse royal commission, simply extend to clergy the same long-standing disclosure obligations that apply to doctors and psychologists. Like priests, such professionals must also be scrupulous about confidentiality - forcing them to break that relationship of trust is no less a big deal. But we’ve decided doctor-patient privilege should yield when a child is being raped.

The real scandal is that clergy have enjoyed an exemption for as long as they have by seeking cover under the aura of the supernatural.

To be fair, it at least makes sense that we hear from the archbishop because the confession law directly impacts on his church.

This is in contrast to the debate on the NSW abortion law. Yes these changes directly impact on doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion who are required to refer women to another doctor. So I understand why we’re hearing from religious leaders on that issue, even if I’m disturbed that a doctor’s religious moralising gets equal weight with the woman’s urgent and horrible predicament.

Now, I suffer from the earthly affliction of insomnia, so perhaps my brain is so foggy I’m missing something obvious, but why do religious leaders have standing in the broader abortion debate? Why are they interviewed on the radio about the reforms as a whole?

If a woman of faith has an unwanted pregnancy she will likely seek advice from her clergy. If she doesn’t, or doesn’t follow their advice, that’s a failure of pastoral care on the clergy’s part. As for what faithless women do, how’s that the province of religious leaders?

Just this: now, as in the past, they assume the right to impose their faith on others. Far from being denied a “voice” in the public square, they have a megaphone. What irks them is that fewer of us are listening.

https://www.theage.com.au/national/discrimination-bill-saves-the-religio...